Last week, Wales announced that they will not be doing GCSE and A Level exams. While it is clearly good to give people certainty, and as much notice as possible, I do think that this is a mistaken approach. In place of exams, the students in Wales will face a number of externally set assessments through the course of the year, and will have to face the ongoing pressures of these assessments throughout the year.
There is no clarity over what those assessments will be like, or what preparation is required, and so students and teachers are left in even greater uncertainty than they were before the announcement. We can see the strain that is on our students, who already feel that each and every assessment could be determining their futures, so I can only imagine what strain this must be adding to pupils in Wales.
At the moment, every sign in England is that the exams will go ahead, and the change to dates is designed to give a little more time to prepare students, while some changes to exam content should make it a bit more manageable to get through all the material. Of course, there remains a very real concern that the summer will not be fair to all candidates. Those who had a poor experience during lockdown, those who have been sent home from schools because of Covid (sometimes repeatedly), and those who have just found the whole experience of Covid particularly difficult will all have ground to make up. To misquote Churchill, though, we end up with the worst of all systems, apart from the others that are available; or put optimistically, the best option that is available, for students, teachers and families.
To compensate for this, I would urge exam boards to be generous in their awarding of grades, and if in doubt, to err towards the positive. I would also urge us all to recognise that the outcome of a set of exams does not determine our lives, but just our next steps. For many who find that their first choice is not available, it turns out that the other options were better in any case. So, what should we be telling the students faced with GCSE, IB or A Level exams this summer? Try to do your best. Be proud of the work that you produce. But, remember to look after yourself as well, and to look after each other.